Saturday, March 26, 2016

Raising Easter

Thursday night our community sat together and did two culturally atypical things. First, we laid hands on the heads one of another and said some simple words, "In the name of Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins." Then, we washed each other's feet. I witnessed one daughter wash her mother's feet with her hair.

Then we shared a spare and simple meal, the body and blood of Christ, the bread and wine poured out for the world.

Last night I read the passion narrative, John 18:1--19:42, out loud, like each Good Friday. It's long. It is also mind-blowing. 

Afterwards, we prayed Holden Prayer Around the Cross, and we gave time for the congregation to name prayers aloud before God. Many, so many, were spoken. Trust the people of God in the Spirit to raise the right prayers, and they will.

But speaking of the Passion reading... this time I noticed this dialogue:

Jesus said, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:20 and following).

I've heard far too many stories of police brutality in the past year. Yes, of course there are good police. But far too many police have killed far too many innocent people. And so parents the country over, especially black parents, train their children not to speak out against the police if they are in their hands.

The problem here is Jesus. Jesus speaks the truth in the presence of the police. The response is to strike him. So if you're a Christian, and you follow Jesus, how exactly are you supposed to teach this passage to your children who may face unjust police force?

Later, there's this dialogue:

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19:19 and following).

Because my brain functions like this, I can't help but think of Jacques Derrida (8-bit explanation of Derrida here), and his focus on writing and différance. Here we have in the very middle of the passion narrative a literary debate, textual criticism if you will. Pilate writes. Others translate. Others read. Redaction is attempted. The writing remains. Writing is happening.

But those in power want to violently use those scare quotes so famously compared by Derrida to talons. The literary commentators would like to take true words and place them in quotation, effectively clawing the words and stealing them away from their location in the text. On the cross.

Here Pilate tells the truth (whether he knows it or not). Here Pilate gives us a grammar. Not "I am the King of the Jews." No, I am the King of the Jews. What I have written I have written. It will not be unwritten. You can't unwrite this. In the beginning was the Word, you know. It became flesh and lived among us, and it's hanging there with that linguistic inscription, and you can take it down and bury it, but what it says, remains.

The Word is indeed hidden away in a sacred silence come Holy Saturday. God lies in the grave, the Word itself buried. But we always only ever know this as retrospective, as backward glance.

Silence never speaks on its own. It only speaks in contemplating Saturday retrospectively from the terror of Easter. (Hans von Balthasar)

There is some question which is most terrifying... God dead in the tomb, or the empty tomb and the death of death. There are reliable religious patterns to implement when someone is actually dead. The disciples and the women were on their way to practice those kinds of burial rituals.

The world doesn't know what to do with resurrection. It can't be liturgized. It's too new. It's always new, always alive again.

The problem with raising Easter... there's no handbook. It comes as event, as promise, as hope against hope. And on many levels it is far more terrifying than the silence of death. Death has a reliable finality to it. Life after death is completely in the hands of the One who raises Christ from the dead. Death offers certainty. Resurrection requires trust.

I don't know about you, but many people in my life right now are in moments that feel so very close to Good Friday. They know the words Jesus spoke from the cross because they are in solidarity with them. "My God, why have you forsaken me?" "It is finished?" "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." These are the moments, of abandonment, no future, betrayal.

I can sit with them in those moments. I know how to do it, I think. Pastors do it. We sit with others in the pain of Friday, the silence of Saturday.

But I confess to you that Easter has a holy terror. What if there is something after this sitting with? What if there is a future after no future, companionship after abandonment, reconciliation after betrayal? Those are phenomenon I cannot imagine, because they feel so fully God, so lively in Spirit, so completely Christ. 

If they happen, they're no longer me, no longer us. They're God. They're God's. And there is a part of me that honestly prefers to cling to the suffering and silence rather than let go to holy new. I am afraid, afraid that naming such an Easter will ring false, seem saccharine, appear singularly positivist.

Which is why I think the gospel spoken by Jesus at his resurrection must and always be a single word, a resurrection chant, the way of raising Easter. To all those who have gone under the waters of baptism. To all those adopting children. To all those battling addiction. To all those living with mental illness. To all those seeking refuge. To all those giving refuge. To all those preaching. To all those who have power. To all those who are weak. To all those who are lonely. To all those who are overwhelmed. To all those who are angry. To all those who feel nothing. To each and every one, in the retrospective speaking of silence in the face of the terror of resurrection, Jesus says:

Don't be afraid.

Don't be afraid.

Don't be afraid.


  1. Beautiful. As one who is at Holy Saturday, and not sure what Resurrection might mean for me, I really appreciate the difficulties and your not rushing to Easter. Thanks.

  2. Yes, Easter is both beautiful and terrifying. Thank you for giving gentle voice to what has been in my heart as I celebrate Holy Week for the first time in more than 30 years.